Paul Tripp in Instrument in the Redeemer’s Hand looks at James 4:1-10 and the slippery slope of desire. He says it’s not that our desires are necessarily bad but that we very easily morph them into something noxious. When I read Tripp’s outline, I had to admit it sounded familiar to me–how desire moves to demand and then to expectation, and then often failed expectation, which can leave me bitter.
Tim Keller [from Redeemer Church in New York] echoes this in his excellent sermon on Colossians 3:1-14, “Christ, Our life” [which you can download for free here: http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=category.display&category_ID=31].
Verse 5 says to put to death “evil desires”. Keller makes the point that this doesn’t mean a desire for something evil, but a desire for something good that becomes evil when the desire becomes excessive [and ultimately becomes an addiction.]
I think this is probably the difference between eating one chocolate truffle and eating a whole box of chocolate truffles. There’s nothing wrong with one. A whole box is another matter. And as powerful as a box of chocolates can be, this same dynamic of desire in our relationships is even more potent.
Here’s how Tripp tracks the life of a benign desire into a toxic poison:
Stage 1: Desire. “The objects of most of our desires are not evil. The problem is the way they tend to grow, and the control they come to exercise over our hearts. All human desire must be held in submission to a greater purpose, the desires of God for his kingdom.” (p. 85)
Stage 2: Demand. (“I must.”) “Demand is the closing of my fists over a desire. . . . I am no longer comforted by God’s desire for me; I am threatened by it, because God’s will potentially stands in the way of my demand. . . . The morphing of my desire changes my relationship to others…[they] must help me get what I want. . . .” (p. 86)
Stage 3: Need. (“I will.”) ” I now view the thing I want as essential to life. This is a devastating step in the eventual slavery of desire. . . . To ‘Christian’ desire as need is equivalent to viewing cake as I do respiration. . . .” (p. 86)
Stage 4: Expectation. (“You should.”) “If I am convinced I need something and you have said that you love me, it seems right to expect that you will help me get it. The dynamic of (improper) need-driven expectation is the source of untold conflict in relationship.” (p. 87)
Stage 5: Disappointment. (“You didn’t!”) “There is a direct relationship between expectation and disappointment, and much of our disappointment in relationships is not because people have actually wronged us, but because they have failed to meet our expectations.” (pp. 87-88)
Stage 6: Punishment. (“Because you didn’t, I will. . . .”) “We are hurt and angry because people who say they love us seem insensitive to our needs. So we strike back in a variety of ways to punish them for their wrongs against us. We include everything from the silent treatment (a form of bloodless murder where I don’t kill you but act as if you do not exist) to horrific acts of violence and abuse. I am angry because you have broken the laws of my kingdom. God’s kingdom has been supplanted. I am no longer motivated by a love for God and people so that I use the things in my life to express that love. Instead I love things, and use people–and even the Lord–to get them. My heart has been captured. I am in active service of the creation, and the result can only be chaos and conflict in my relationships.” (p. 88)
The antidote he gives from James 4 involves turning to God: Submit…come near…humble yourself… Our choice is not between submitting and rebelling, but between submitting to the box of chocolates or to God. Regardless of what I choose, I’m submitting to something.
[ Thanks to Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds for putting me on to Paul Tripp: http://theologica.blogspot.com/]